Sensory Details


Sensory details provide some of the most powerful concrete details available.

Have you ever thought about why reality is more real than what you read? After all, once an experience has passed, it’s gone. It doesn’t exist any more than an event of fiction. You are left with your memories and the elusive moment: now. Have you ever dreamed something and then wondered if it had really happened? Same thing.

So if your writing was strong enough—if you could make a reader experience an event or somehow build the memories of an event as clearly as through experience itself, then there would be, in the end, no difference (for all practical purposes), right? Real events tend to fade from memory with time. Does this mean that a recently-read fictional experience can be more real than a long-ago real-life event? In one way of looking at it, yes.

And that is where sensory details come in. Even when using concrete details, many writers fail to describe any of the senses except sight. They only cover what "was there." And they miss out on a lot of what made the experience real and valuable. They miss out on what makes sinking into a bubbling hot tub better than staring longingly at a picture of it. They miss out on what makes sinking your teeth into a rich crème-filled éclair better than flipping through a plastic menu. They miss out on what makes sinking into the Antarctic ocean more terrifying than watching it happen on a movie screen.

The Sensory Details process is easy and effective if you implement a few keys:

  1. Use as many senses as possible. Each one can add a level of depth to the experience of reading.
  2. Use words that sound like what you’re describing. Metal can clang, tinkle, bong, clunk, rattle, or crinkle, depending on the size and shape and what’s happening to it. Objects falling into water can splash or plop. Waves can crash or lap the shore.
  3. Use strong action verbs. Which is stronger—wind blowing through your hair or whipping through your hair?
  4. Mention many things in terms of specific body parts. Rain pelting your forehead and running into the corner of your mouth is more effective than rain falling on you. Generally, the more specific the body part you mention, the more realistic the experience will be for your reader.

Process:

Close your eyes and imagine one sense at a time. Write down everything you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. It may surprise you to discover just how many sensations we experience in almost any situation. Need more inspiration? You'll find some great outdoor photos all over the High Adventure Coalition.

 

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